People's Democracy

(Weekly Organ of the Communist Party of India (Marxist)


Vol. XXXIII

No. 30

July 26, 200

CMZ Notification Allowed to Lapse

 

K Hemalata

 

 

FISHERS are among the vast sections of the population whose livelihood and living conditions are threatened by the neo liberal economic policies being pursued by successive governments at the centre since the last two decades. Around 75 lakh people in the country are engaged in fishing and related activities and around three crore people are dependent on them. Half of them, the coastal fishers, live along the long sea coast stretching across 11 states and union territories in the country. Till now the government has not enacted any legislation for their benefit. There is no separate ministry to deal with fisheries and as a result, different ministries deal with different aspects related to the industry.

 

In 1991, the coastal regulation zone (CRZ) notification was issued by the ministry of Environment and Forestry of the government of India, which was meant to regulate the activities in the coastal areas in order to protect the sensitive ecosystems, environment and the coastal marine resources. The CRZ imposed restrictions on establishment of industries, construction activities, manufacturing activities etc in the coastal zone. Though there were no serious efforts to strictly implement the CRZ notification, to some extent, it helped in protecting the mangroves and other ecosystems and the environment in the coast and prevented infringement on the space in the sea coast on which the fishers carry on their fishing related activities.

 

But subsequently, as the implementation of the neo liberal policies progressed, these restrictions were removed through a large number of amendments and several activities, particularly those related to the development of tourism, to the promotion of exports like construction of ports, harbours etc, infrastructure development, oil exploration, were permitted. Ultimately succumbing to the pressure from the corporate and builders lobby, the government decided to change the concept of regulation of the coast to the management of the coast with development as the objective. It has constituted the Swaminathan committee to make recommendations on coastal management and issued the Coastal Management Zone notification in May 2008. The state governments, the local bodies etc representing the people traditionally living on the coast including the fishers have not been consulted in formulating the draft CMZ.

 

The basic approach of Swaminathan Committee recommendation – that of regulation and people’s involvement - was also not incorporated in the CMZ notification. By extending the area of operation in the CMZ, the role of the state government on waters up to 12 nautical miles has been infringed; the local bodies have no role in the formulation of the Integrated Coastal Zone Management Plans, which are made by the state authorities and approved by the national authority.

 

While the earlier coastal regulation zone notification, 1991, prohibits several activities and imposes regulations on other developmental activities in the coastal areas, the draft CMZ notification allowed setting up of different industries, resorts, Greenfield airports etc. Uncontrolled activities in the name of development are bound to impact the marine resources and the sensitive ecology in the coastal areas including the livelihood and living conditions of the communities including the fishers traditionally living in the coast and dependent on it for their survival.

 

In several states, even while the CRZ continues to be in force, thousands of hectares of land is being given to the big corporates and investors in the name of development. For example, the Andhra Pradesh government has decided to develop the entire stretch of the coast in the state as a ‘Coastal Corridor’ setting up several petrochemical and chemical industries, pharmaceutical industries, power plants, SEZs, ports etc.  The fishers along the coast complain of a drastic reduction in the fish production because of the discharge of untreated pollutants into the sea by the industries, by the destruction of vast tracts of mangroves, by the increase in the temperature of the sea water etc. Thousands of fishers have been displaced by the construction of Gangavaram and Krishnapatnam ports. Thousands more apprehend displacement and further depletion of marine resources.

 

While development is necessary, it needs to be balanced. It is necessary to protect the interests of the people traditionally living in the coastal areas and dependant on the sea for their survival. For the lakhs of fishers living in the coastal areas, development would mean provision of basic infrastructure including roads, communication facilities, power, water, housing, health and education facilities for their children. But the fishers, from their experience, knew that the development envisaged through the CMZ would rob them of their basic means of survival.

 

As a result, there were widespread protests against the draft CMZ notification by the fishers all along the coast. Several NGOs and fishers’ organisations organised demonstrations demanding withdrawal of the notification. The Kerala, Tamilnadu and Andhra Pradesh committees of the All India Fishers and Fisheries Workers’ Federation too organised conventions, jathas and demonstrations at the state capitals against the CMZ. It has demanded a comprehensive legislation to protect the ecology, and environment in the coastal areas as well as the livelihood and living conditions of fishers and not mere administrative notifications.

 

Because of the pressure, the government had to agree for consultations with the representatives of the fishers’ organisations, NGOs etc. A four member expert committee was formed, which has started consultations at the national level. The minister, Environment and Forests has announced that the government would allow the CMZ to lapse and that the CRZ would continue to be in force and efforts would be made to strengthen the CRZ. The expert committee would hold five regional level consultations in Bhubaneswar, Chennai, Kochi, Goa and Mumbai to seek opinions of the fishers’ organisation and NGOs etc on improving the coastal regulatory zone notification, before finalising their proposals.

 

While the response of the minister for Environment and Forests is welcome, a strong united movement of the fishers’ organisations and the coastal communities alone can ensure an improved CRZ and its effective implementation to protect the livelihood and living conditions of the coastal fishers and other communities.